Even today, the category of military history still elicits a bit of head scratching. Our own John Southard noted as much in a 2012 essay for ToM: “Crayons, Fraternities, and Military History.” Southard pointed out that in the last throes of the twentieth century and the first decade of the new millennium, there existed among historians a great deal of doubt regarding the efficacy of military history. At the 1997 meeting for the Society of Military History, John Lynn publicly confided that one of his University of Illinois colleagues inquired, in the best voice of academic condescension one can imagine, if military historians “write in crayon.” At the 2008 meeting of the American Historical Association, John Shy, professor emeritus of history at the University of Michigan, publicly confided that the head of one particular American history department believed military history to be the domain of “hormone driven frat boys.”
Indeed, perceptions of the field, as Southard went on to discuss, remained mired in stereotypes and narrow thinking. The fact is, over the last twenty years, and especially in the last decade, how historians think about the military and its effects on society have taken on new importance to the extent that a new category soon emerged, “War and Society.” “This perceptive approach to the study of armed conflict,” noted Southard, “speaks to the interconnectedness of wars, militaries, and societies. Unlike traditional and “new” military history, the subject of war and society has garnered the interest of military historians and non-military historians alike.” Yet despite these new developments, many historians continued to relegate their military focused counterparts to “traditional battle narratives” and the like.
Obviously, we here at ToM agree with Southard. Indeed, some of the best work in history over the course of the past twenty five years emerged from new developments in the study of “War and Society.” With this in mind, there are one or two caveats. First, this list focuses on the 20th century military and its interaction with broader society, so you won’t see any Civil War histories in the mix. Second, we wanted to highlight “newer” works from the past 20 to 25 years and particularly those focusing on the U.S. military and its impact domestically. Finally, rather than try to provide an exhaustive, comprehensive but perhaps narrow list, we’ve supplied subheadings as well, so think of this as a sort of proto-comps list. At any rate, dig into some of the meatiest works of history over the past two and a half decades with ToM’s Military history listicle!
The Military Reshaping America
Ann Markusen, Peter Hall, Scott Campbell, and Sabina Dietrich, Rise of the Gunbelt: The Military Remapping of Industrial America, 1991.
Roger Lotchin, Fortress California, 1910 – 1961: From Warfare to Welfare, 1992
Michael Sherry, In the Shadow of War: The United States since the 1930s, 1995
The Military, the City, and the Suburbs
Marilyn Johnson, The Second Gold Rush: Oakland and the East Bay in World War II, 1996
Gender and Sexuality in the Military
Beth Bailey and David Farber, First Strange Place: Race and Sex in World War II Hawaii, 1994
Allen Berube, Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women During World War II, 2000
Vietnam and the Anti-War Movement
David Maraniss, They Marched into Sunlight: War and Peace, Vietnam and America, October 1967, 2003
Lorena Oropeza, Raza Si! Guerra No!: Chicano Protest and Patriotism During the Vietnam War Era, 2005
Richard Moser, The New Winter Soldiers: G.I. and Veteran Dissent During the Vietnam Era, 1996
The Institutional Military
Kathleen J. Frydl, The G.I. Bill, 2009